It is hard for players to have breakout performance in as small a sample as two weeks, but the New York Mets’ have already had some noteworthy performances this spring training.
Statistics from just two weeks mean very little, but certain Mets players have exhibited noticeable strides from last season. Whether it be an improved approach at the plate or by making harder contact, these Mets have impressed in the early going.
Because the sample size is so small, the statistics should be taken into account much less. While numbers may support these performances, I am deeming them breakout performances largely by the eye test and how the players look and are approaching the game.
Below are three Mets who have stood out during the first two weeks of spring training with their improving play on the field.
Rafael Montero received recognition all offseason due to his exceptional command and domination of minor league hitters in 2013, but many still doubted whether his numbers were legitimate and if his slight frame could handle a starter’s workload.
While it is a small sample, so far, Montero has proven that his numbers were far from a fluke. Watching him pitch in spring training has been a treat, as he has a tremendous idea of how to go about attacking hitters.
Montero has pitched six innings against many major league quality hitters, and he overmatched them consistently. He has only allowed one earned run, two hits and one walk.
Montero’s most impressive moment came in the game against the St. Louis Cardinals, which I tweeted about at the time:
Oscar Taveras is one of the best hitting prospects in baseball, known for being great at hitting bad balls out of the strike zone hard. He, like Montero, is on the verge of making the major leagues, and Montero proved his worth against the highly touted Cardinal:
Montero knew that Taveras was an overly aggressive hitter, throwing him an off-speed pitch that tailed out of the strike zone to get one of the best line-drive hitters in the minors to roll over weakly.
Montero’s command and feel for pitching have been on full display and have made him one of the Mets’ most exciting breakout performers thus far.
Terry Collins has insinuated publicly that he wants Eric Young Jr. in the lineup as his leadoff man, via Adam Rubin of ESPN New York, but Juan Lagares should be the starting center fielder regardless. Lagares is an exceptional defensive player with concerns about his bat, but he is quieting some of those concerns with his performance this spring.
Lagares has reminded fans of his outstanding defense with his play thus far. This was especially the case with a throw he made to gun down a runner at third against the Atlanta Braves.
What makes Lagares’ performance a breakout one is with how he has complemented his defense with a solid offensive performance. He’s hitting .320 in 25 at-bats, spraying line drives across the field and not looking overmatched.
Lagares has only walked once with one extra-base hit, but patience and power should not be expected of him. He will never be a premium offensive player, but if he can hit hard line drives to go along with his defense, he becomes an extremely valuable entity.
If the Mets are going to win this season, they will be reliant on their pitching, and having an outfielder like Lagares in center makes that pitching even stronger. His presence in the lineup is crucial to the Mets’ 2014 hopes, and his success at the plate so far should help him force his way into an everyday role.
Despite the fact that Cesar Puello was sent to minor league camp recently, his performance prior to his demotion is one of the most noteworthy of the spring.
Puello has as much raw talent as any player in the majors, boasting tremendous raw power with a cannon of an arm and high-end speed. Last year was the first time he was able to translate his talents onto the field, but he missed the end of the season due to his connection to Biogenesis.
Puello put up big numbers last season in Double-A Binghamton, but there are still major concerns about his future as a major leaguer. He has massive tools but an overly aggressive approach at the plate that could allow major league pitchers to consistently dominate him.
This spring, Puello not only mashed, but he also showed a drastically improved approach at the plate. He hit .364 across 10 games while hitting the ball hard consistently, but more importantly, he reached base at a .533 clip. He was noticeably patient at the plate, taking pitches that the opposition assumed he would chase, while jumping on pitches left in the middle of the zone.
If this approach lasts into the season, expect Puello to destroy Triple-A Las Vegas and put pressure on the front office to give him a call-up.
All statistics courtesy Baseball-Reference.